My sister Fran and her husband John joined the boat at Lolowai two days ago. We waited at the simple airport at Longana for their 20 seat Dehavilland Twin Otter prop plane from Luganville. The plane taxied to a stop but kept one engine running. Two Vanuatan’s hopped out, but after a few minutes Fran and John had not appeared. I asked someone who was joining the flight (it proceeds on to a number of islands) to go in the cabin and ask for Fran and John. That got results — they jumped out. The captain never turned off the seat belt sign, never announced where they had landed, and did not stop one of the props, so they did not think that they should get off or that this was their destination. If they had gone on to another island, we might never have caught up with them.
We went to the airport from Lolowai in the fanciest pickup truck on Ambae Island. It was driven by Jim, our new friend and a volunteer from New Zealand who, along with his wife Linda, are helping develop tourism in Penama Province. We also became friends with the other white folk on the island — Ed and Beth, a husband/wife team of Peace Corps volunteers, and Billy, another Peace Corps volunteer who works up-island. The people of Lolowai were so very friendly to us. On our first day (before Fran and John arrived), we looked into a little shop run my Rachel. A bond quickly developed that was certainly aided by Laura’s almost fluent French. Rachel gave us gifts, then we gave her gifts, and then more of the same until we said heartfelt goodbyes. On that first day we also went to Celia’s little restaurant next to the John Still store. We immediately hit it off with Celia and had an exchange of gifts. We had Celia, her son Steven, and her little daughter, over to the boat for lemonade and cookies. Celia is such a charming, earnest, and affectionate person. Her restaurant has only one dish on the menu, so there is no menu and no need to order. Just sit down and you get served with rice with susu (a vegetable), beans, and a little bit of minced beef on top.
Her brother John runs the John Still store next door. Outside the entrance are barrels of gasoline, diesel, and kerosine. There is a fence to keep out the pigs. Inside the small dark establishment there is an amazing array of stuff — including bread and sweet rolls, rice, flour, vegetable oil, plastic buckets, cigarettes, Coke, lanterns, rope, and much more. People are constantly coming and going. Lolowai is the provincial capitol (actually Saratamata next door), and has civil servants, a police post, a hospital (with no doctor), and at least a couple dozen motorized vehicles (but no electricity). One has to look before crossing the unpaved road. There is an establishment that calls itself an “internet cafe” but there is no internet (there was some internet for a while more than a year ago) and they do not serve food.
We left Lolowai at high tide yesterday (Thursday, August 5) and went to Asanvari, Maewo Island, one of our favorite places. We came with 10 kilos of flour as a gift for Vivienne, the wife of Nickson, the son of Chief Nelson. Today we walked around the local villages and then snorkeled into the rock fissure nearby (described in an earlier blog). It is one of the most beautiful snorkeling locations we have experienced, and we are glad that Fran and John were able to experience it as well. We then proceeded to the waterfall where we bathed in the cool, fresh water in the pool at the base of the falls. Just before sunset, we returned to Asanvari village to have kava in the nakamal with Chief Nelson and his son Nickson. All four of us drank kava. Chief Nelson and Nickson related to us the creation myth of kava, so now we understand why kava is a “she.” Nickson is a very congenial guy